Two of Mobile’s three TV stations are becoming part of the same family after their corporate ownership announced a $1.6 billion merger March 21. Whether they will stay under the same roof remains to be seen.

Media General and LIN announced their merger that morning — a move that will combine 74 stations in 46 markets, reaching nearly a quarter of the nation’s TV households. The deal calls for Media General to acquire LIN with a combination of stock and $763 million in cash. Media General will also reportedly take on roughly $1 billion in LIN’s debt.

The local fallout from this move could be significant as WKRG-TV is owned by Media General and WALA-TV/WFNA are LIN properties. The merger would mean the Mobile/Pensacola market would have four television stations owned by two media conglomerates.

WEAR and WPMI are both owned by Sinclair. The FCC has allowed Sinclair to own both stations despite the fact their coverage overlaps the two cities.

However, local station insiders said they believe the situation with WKRG and WALA will be different and FCC regulations will require that one of them be sold to a third party.

Media General has made statements that the merger would require sales in some markets where duplicate ownership would be created.

The initial whispers in media circles are that Raycom Media, which is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, would be a likely suitor as the company has shown interest in Mobile stations before.

In the initial wake of the announcement rank-and-file employees expressed shock and a bit of trepidation, but most also realized the process is likely to take some time and very little is known yet.

WALA/WFNA VP/General Manager Gary Yoder expressed that sentiment in a short statement Friday afternoon.

“We are excited about the announcement made today but are focused on our daily commitment to serve our viewers and advertisers. It’s business as usual here at WALA / WFNA,” he wrote.

WKRG General Manager Mark Bunting said his station too is simply focused on the here and now and would await more information from Media General.
“When they know more I’m sure our offices will let us know more,” he said.

A similar situation will exist in five markets, including Birmingham, where CBS42 and NBC 13 will both be owned by Media General after the merger. Whether the stations will be sold off as a group, individually or traded is unknown.

“This merger is a game changing opportunity for both companies, substantially increasing shareholder value, providing a strong balance sheet and creating immediate and very significant free cash flow that will enable further growth.

We’ve long admired LIN Media and, as we’ve gotten to know their organization better as this transaction has developed, we are more certain than ever that our shared values and common culture will benefit both our stations and the communities we serve.

We look forward to a seamless integration of the two companies as we also deliver quickly on the synergies we have identified. It is a terrific transaction,” George L. Mahoney, president and Chief Executive Officer of Media General, said today in a statement. 

ABBYs announced for 2013

WPMI’s Andrea Ramey made it back-to-back wins as Alabama’s Reporter of the Year recently when she took home another Alabama Broadcasters Association “ABBY Award.”

I’m told Ramey is the only person in the organization’s history to receive the award two years in a row. Someone will probably want to drag her off to New York now. Congratulations Andrea.

Some other local TV stations won ABBYs as well. WKRG-TV took home a Judges Award of Merit for Local Programming for their “Mayoral Debate.” The folks at WKRG also won best feature for their “News 5 Special Report: Beach Walk” in which reporters walked local beaches to observe their condition three years after the Gulf Horizon oil spill.

And WALA rounded things out with a Judges Award of Merit for a News Series for “Missing Brittney: The Untold Story.” The feature by reporter Andrew Perez focused on missing mother Brittney Wood.

Weekly now

So as you hold in your hand the first Lagniappe Weekly, you may have noticed some slight changes. Our graphic artist Laura Rasmussen has reworked our logo and most of the headers throughout the paper, giving it a more streamlined look. We don’t need wind resistance wasting everyone’s energy.

The other big change right now is — drumroll please — a crossword puzzle! Check it out on page 52.
It’s the only think in the paper not locally produced, but we figured people would get sick of having “azalea” and “Slacabamorinico” as clues each week.

We’ve got some other additions in the works and we’ll announce them as we move along. And if you haven’t joined our Friends With Benefits program yet, scan the QR code on page 3 or head to lagniappemobile.com and sign up.

Spring Break time

Not to be too tough on the folks running al.com, but after two weeks of cheesecake bikini photos from Spring Breakers on area beaches being featured prominently on the website, it’s growing harder to figure out whether news or “clickbait” is the emphasis.

I’ve heard more than a few complaints from people wondering what’s up on the news site.

Yes, there are pictures of young women, girls and boys playing on the beach, but also a few of young women in bikinis where you can’t even see faces, just exposed skin.

Guess it’s all about the hits these days.